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Over the last couple of weeks we took the #PressForward podcast in a different direction – we brought you some live interviews from WordCamp Europe 2019. There are more of these to come, but we thought that we’d go back to the recorded interview format for a few weeks, just to change things around a little!
Today we hear from Phil Morrow. He was our guest in episode number two, but today he’s talking about a different subject. You see, over the last year or so Phil has seen growth in his WooCommerce agency Happy Kite. They’ve taken on some new members of staff and have been working with clients who have larger budgets.
When we think about the trajectory of a business, this seems like it’s exactly what you want. Bigger budgets, more staff – everything must be fine right?
Well for Phil, not everything about this growth was fine, and that is what we talk about today on the #PressForward podcast.
Not having experience of growing an agency before, Phil was not too sure how to proceed. Who should he hire? What kinds of skills should they have? Turns out that you can hire people who do the exact same work that you love, the work that makes you want to get up in the morning. If people that you’ve hired are doing that work, where does that leave you? You’ve become a business manager when you never intended that for yourself. You’ve cut out the aspects of work that you like and handed them over to others to do instead.
We talk about how Phil might have grown his agency differently were he able to roll back the clock and start all over. We also talk about the journey that Phil has had in this time of growth with his own mental health. In what ways did it manifest itself and how he’s been managing it?
Family has been important; Phil’s wife was able to offer support at just the right time and allow Phil to concentrate upon himself and have time away from the business. Time that he needed to reflect about how he wanted to work in the future.
Phil see’s the need for family support, but also for the kind of support that WP&UP can provide. The kind of support that can help you work on and not in your business. He’s excited about the possibilities that WP&UP offers, especially regarding how it can be useful for his employees now and into the future.
Towards the end we explore briefly how Phil has been working on his physical health, getting regular exercise and getting himself out of the house; key components for his own happiness.
Join Phil on this very honest and informative journey with WP&UP.
Interviewed by Nathan Wrigley.
And remember… Together we can #PressForward
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Nathan Wrigley: 00:00 Welcome to episode 13 of the press forward podcast. I’m Nathan Wrigley and I’d like to thank you for joining us again and if this is your first time with us, I hope that you like it and that you find it useful. If you want to make listening to this podcast a regular thing, you can subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player. This can be done by going to wpandup.org forward slash podcast hyphen feed. The pressboard podcast is created by wpandup they’re, a charity working in the WordPress space to support the WordPress community. Their help is freely available at wpandup.org to give you some insight into what wpandup are doing and why there’s a need for the service that we offer. I’m going to give you some data, so wpandup have provided roughly two and a half thousand hours of companionship and mentorship.
Nathan Wrigley: 01:18 We have over three and a half thousand members. Over $5,000 have been donated by volunteers that have been over 6,000 event attendees. You can see that there’s a significant need for the support that wpandup are providing. And to that end we’re always on the lookout for people who are willing to help us. If you’d like to support wpandup financially, then please visit wpandup.org forward slash give and if you’d like to get involved in wpandup then please visit wpandup.org forward slash contact or look for the social links in the footer of the website. Sponsorship is also an option you’ll be supporting the important work that we’re undertaking and you can also be featured on the podcast. The pressforward podcast is brought to you today by Green Geeks. Green geeks offers an awesome managed web hosting platform that’s built for speed, security and scalability whilst being environmentally friendly and joy. A Better web hosting experience for your WordPress website, backed by 24 seven expert support and we thank green geeks for helping us to put on the press forward podcast.
Nathan Wrigley: 03:10 today we’re returning to our roots. You may have noticed that for a couple of weeks. The podcast recordings came from the interviews that we did live at WordCamp Europe in Berlin. We’ve still got more of those to come because I was lucky enough to interview some really interesting people, so stay tuned for those. This episode though features Phil Morrow, who we briefly met in episode number two. Phil has been working with WordPress and WooCommerce for many years seeking to grow his agency and raise its profile during the last year or so, growth did come. Now you might think that growth is a good thing and of course you’d be right, but it brings with it some challenges what sustained and worked when the agency was smaller, might not work when its growing procedures need to be amended. Staff needs to be hired and the cashflow needs to increase. Phil addresses these issues and tells us about the lessons that he’s learned along the way, as well as things that he’s still learning. If you’re scaling your agency than Phil’s words might take on a special meaning and give you some insights, insights born out of real experience. So this is a trigger warning. During today’s episode. We briefly touch on the topics of mental health and panic attacks. So Phil, tell us about your agency.
Phil Morrow: 04:46 Uh, yes. So we’re a happy guy. We’re um, a sort of full service eCommerce agency. So we built WordPress and WooCommerce and we do a bit of design development and marketing for generally sort of small to medium size businesses. We’re now a team of seven and two years ago we were a team of three and now it’s in a context, a lot of people that’s not huge growth, but for me that’s quite significant. And so yeah, we’re now at the point where you started to get a slightly larger clients site, larger projects. All a hundred of our projects are WordPress. We only work with WordPress and the vast majority of what economists, the client comes along with a good fit, but they don’t need eCommerce then we’ll still wet them. But generally speaking, eCommerce is our specialty. Yeah.
Nathan Wrigley: 05:27 So we know that Phil has scaled from three to seven members of staff in the last year or so. He humbly says that this is not huge growth, but it’s more than enough to alter the way that the business is run. I’ve always thought it would be nice if there was a manual to turn to a definitive source of wisdom that could be studied. Something that would guarantee that agency growth was painless and easy. Sadly, there isn’t. Most of the time growth is something that you work out for yourself as you go. Some of the decisions that you make workout and all as well. Other decisions lead you to consequences that you did not expect or even desire. Ideally every decision, every meeting, every client interaction would bolster the business add to its security and stability. But as fellow was learning on the job, that was not always his experience.
Phil Morrow: 06:31 Yup. No, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. So yeah, if that’s something you spend that I think so I started out I think the same way a lot people do and I was basically freelance, so just making websites for people. Um, so I talked a bit design building and, and marketing for them and I did all three but I was not necessarily strong any of them. And so I thought as I grew I’d bring in people that were specialists in those things to make the business grow the business from there and that you know, that has worked well and I believe we deliver really good work and we get value for our clients. The downside of that is what I’ve realized is that I’ve replaced myself in all the things that I’m good at and enjoy with other people. And so where we are in the business right now, I’m effectively sales and marketing and a project manager and in some regards I could almost take myself out of my this business and I could be doing almost any business because those skills don’t change so much from business to business.
Phil Morrow: 07:23 So I’m sort of a level obstructed from the thing I was doing in the first place that I enjoyed and was passionate about. What I found over the course of this experience is that I am not very good project manager and I’m not very good at sales and marketing folk for myself, at least for our company. And so one of the things where we’ve realized that and identified out of this is what my strengths are and to try to get the business back to the, I’m working at things I’m strongest at, so we know what the next hires are going to be, as we grow, we’ll be looking at an account manager, project manager role. And if I was to go back in time a few years, I would be hiring those that, that role much sooner and, and myself be doing more of the design development. So yeah, that was, that’s a major, a major learning.
Nathan Wrigley: 08:08 So one of the unexpected consequences of agency’s growth is that Phil hired people to do the task that he loved the most all the time. This felt like the right thing to do. People needed to be hired to keep up with the new work coming in, but it meant that Phil has now become a manager of people, something that he did not foresee. I’m always hearing people say that you need to allocate time to work on your business and not just in your business set aside time to stop doing the tasks that the clients need completed and work on the task that will promote and develop your business in the way that you wanted to go. I wondered if looking back, Phil feels like he was doing this, was he planning what needed to be done and executing it or reacting to situations as they came up?
Phil Morrow: 09:06 No, and I think that’s going to sound odd, especially in the context of me describing what I’ve been through and in some ways I’m grateful for this experience. It’s changed the way I looked at a business previously. I think we’re very much running in autopilot. We pretty much build it and they will come. We did good work and other clients just came and then I’ll be like I’ve got too much work now I’m going to hire somebody and there wasn’t a clear intentional decision about what that next role was going to be, what I want to be doing, where I want to see the business going. It was just, we’ve now got too much work of this nature. Let’s hire somebody that does that. So it wasn’t really until I got to this stage that I realized, oh, hang on, no, I’m no longer doing the things I like.
Phil Morrow: 09:45 It just kind of sort of snuck up on me and said some of that isn’t the things I liked. There was some bits in the clients we’ve chosen to work with because I say chosen, but because we were, I was, I didn’t have the skills in business and I wasn’t working on my business. I was very much working in my business and just those basic firefighting every day, solving problems. It wasn’t just that the things that I’m personally doing and not necessarily what I’m good at and what I’m passionate about. But it’s also that the clients who we’re working with weren’t necessarily the clients we’d want to be working with or when I say the best fit, it was just what had come along and said what we’re changing now is actually having proper sales and marketing funnel naturally qualifying leads and actually finding the people that are right for us that we want to work with. Um, cause we have a number of them that we love working with. And if we can fill our days with those people, then happy days.
Nathan Wrigley: 10:34 So Phil had to pivot his role in the agency because of the hiring decisions that were made. People were taken on to replace him and that meant that he had a new role. I asked him if he could turn back time and replay the whole process of growing the agency again. What would he do differently and at what point would he rewind to,
Phil Morrow: 11:01 if I was to go back, I would go back to when it was just me and I would actually write down, but actually write down on a piece of paper what it is that I want to wake up every day and be doing myself. Like what sorts of tasks I want to fill my day with and what sorts of people I want to be working with. And I know I would always wants to grow the business. Uh, working, working from home, work for yourself, it can be, you know, quite isolating and I knew that having previously worked at other places and, and enjoy collaborating, I knew I wanted to grow and collaborate with people and entertain and ideally seeing them face to face more often. And that’s what we’ve got. That is one thing we have consciously done. We’ve grown the team and we’ve grown it with an office, which I know is the norm everywhere else in the world, in our industry, maybe not so much I would have from that point made it much clearer.
Phil Morrow: 11:43 What do I want to be doing? And I think probably our third hire would have been an account manager, project manager, sort of a role. So then basically taking on the client facing side as, so as it stands, I’m still doing that to a certain degree. Along with my wife is I guess the superhero, this story. But now as we grow we will be hiring someone for that. Um, but yeah, so at the moment the team is may and then, and then my wife and then we have three developers. One more back end, one more front end at one and then I do the design style and then we have two people that work in, in marketing. And so yeah. So I do some design that mostly it’sproject management and sales now
Nathan Wrigley: 12:28 as I mentioned at the start, there is no manual for growing your agency. Phil had to make his decisions based upon what he thought was right at the time and learn from those decisions. Wouldn’t it be good if there was some kind of support network that you could tap into? People who had been through this or were going through it at the same time as you were people with whom you could share your journey and strains, people who could support you as you supported them.
Phil Morrow: 13:03 I think I could have avoided a lot of this sort of suffering I went through if I had more of a professional support network. Um, what’s I mean by that is that whilst I have people in my personal so I could turn to professionally, I didn’t, I didn’t, no one that I knew really run their own business and certainly nobody I knew ran their own businesses and in development and I, you know, run an agency or worked in WordPress and so by being connected to wpandup and by speaking to more people, I now have a position where I actually have people that are at least acquaintances in some cases, you know, I regard them as friends who I can turn to and if I’m struggling I can say I’m having this problem in the business. And it’s been hugely helpful to have someone than you know, even if it’s just like a whatsapp conversation to just respond and say, Yup, I have that same problem four times a year.
Phil Morrow: 13:52 This is how I deal with it. And it’s just because it is. Even though I’m not necessarily working from home, as often and not as isolated. A lot of people would be, even when you’re in the office with your team, if you’re the one running it, you can still feel incredibly isolated. And so I began to speak to other people that basically on the same thing that you have is huge and the advice you can get is priceless. So that’s, that’s something I would really highly recommend people do proactively, even like long before they start experiencing issues. Let’s build that network
Nathan Wrigley: 14:24 Phil makes a great point about building relationships with people working in the same field as you do so that you can offer one another support. The chances are that your close friends and relations whilst being essential to you might not have the technical knowledge of running a business like yours. Linking up with people who have been through what you’re going through with your business might offer you a different support and one that can assist you with the machinations of your business. In this case, we’re talking about Phil and his agency’s growth, but it’s not limited to that. You might be a designer or developer or marketer. The truth is that you could be doing anything on the someone out there who can assist you. wpandup might be a place where you can create those connections and it’s something that you could start doing today, no matter who you are or what your expertise is.
Phil Morrow: 15:29 Yeah, 100% I think people that are drawn to any sort of development, writing code on that for a living. These are, you know, these people that were very logical and you sort of like, okay, here come. Here’s an input coming in. If x happens, I know this is the outcome of it and and I’ll handle these other outcomes and I now I’ve got everything mapped kind of thing and people don’t conform to that and so people can be intimidating in that regard and so, when I say I haven’t got support network, I still attended. I think every WordCamp London since it, again, I just haven’t really spoken to many people. I’ve just, and I’ve always felt oh once, once I’ve grown a bit more. Once my agency is good, once I, I’m as good as these other people, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll speak when I’m on their level, I’ll speak to them, you know, I’ll, that’s the reason I’m not yet because I’m not there yet.
Phil Morrow: 16:19 I’m still, I don’t know, I’m doing what they do. They’ve got all you know, together and I haven’t yet. I guess I sold an imposter syndrome sort of thing and I think that’s a very unhealthy attitude and certainly if I think that the other way round, if I know someone else was where I was couple of years ago and they saw me at one time, I’d obviously love for them to come to speak to me and so I’m going to start trying to think more in that regard. If I was down to talk to other people who are ahead of our I am that, you know, they probably haven’t got it all as together as it maybe looks and that they would be more than happy to help or offer advice to people that have okay. Answer it as well.
Nathan Wrigley: 16:53 Now that Phil has been through this transition and is coming out the other side, he’s learned some lessons along the way. Obviously he could keep all of his knowledge to himself, but better yet he could share it with his staff so that they were able to benefit from it and short circuit their own career development.
Phil Morrow: 17:17 Yes. That’s where, that’s where it kind of gets now through my own experiences. I started to realize this is a wider problem and the first step for me in that is actually I’ve quite transparently opened up to my team about what I went through and well, they also knew that where she is because essentially what happened was my wife and I swapped jobs for a few weeks, so I knew that I, I just struggling by being very open with them about my own mental health struggles, which I think is still very the first step in addressing these things and yeah, from that. We also are flexible working hours. We are very flexible. Our teams try and fit around their needs and people do have days where there’ll be off sick, but that sickness is more, mental health day. Really. Yeah, that’s, I think that’s the way that the beginning of it, it’s now going to become a much more prominent part of the way I think about it in the way I think about my team. So I know that’s something that wpandup are going to be doing more of as well coaching companies to allow to support them. So I will be introducing my team to wpandup as well. So they, they know they’ve got somebody to turn. If they didn’t feel they could tend to us within the team
Nathan Wrigley: 18:19 wpandup offer support across their four health hubs. They are mental health skills, health, business health and physical health. You’ve probably noticed that Phil’s story has thus far been related to his business and the resulting impact that this has had on his mental health. These are all areas that wpandup can support you with. I wanted to move the conversation on to talk about how Phil looks after his physical health. I started by asking him if he thinks that his physical health impacts upon his mental health of the two intertwined.
Phil Morrow: 19:04 Uh, yes, 100% at least I made, I also been careful about, you know, there’s no silver bullet and different things about different people. Yes, for me, I have found that um, I have now started, came running in the morning. Um, I basically try and start my day when it was the hardest part. My objectives for the day was the kind of patient, get up, make the bed open, the curtain to achieve that you’ve done well. But now that I’m in and I’m all returned to a more normal life for myself while I still tried to keep the good, good habit. So I get up, make the bed and then every day I leave the house when I can. I tried to go for a run to begin with I wasn’t very good at running and like injuries. So I Todd go too too often. But if I made the not able to run because maybe I’m not feeling great that day.
Phil Morrow: 19:50 Um, and it’s a bit tricky for me to go and do it. Or if I, you know, pulled a muscle or something, I will force myself to step out the house. And even if I just walk around sort of the block for five minutes, it’s really, it’s really helps me particularly that time of day as well. I basically, after I get out when most of the world’s not really woken up yet and sun’s coming up, it’s a really nice time and it’s enormously helped me. Um, and, and it just sets my day up and in a way that makes me feel much more like I can take on any challenges I’m facing rather than being afraid of them. So yeah, it’s, that’s, that’s, yeah, he’s been a significant, helps me.
Nathan Wrigley: 20:24 If you were paying close attention to Phil’s words earlier, you’ll live noticed him say that for a period of time, he and his wife swapped roles at the agency to allow Phil to concentrate upon himself for awhile. This got me thinking about the role of the family in Phil’s life over the last few years. I wondered if he had found it easy to up about his mental health with this immediate family and the wider family.
Phil Morrow: 20:54 Yeah, so there’s two, there’s two answers to that with my wife and I didn’t really have a choice whether I opened up to her or not. The problems were so self evident and obviously we live in the same house. There was no, we’re going about it and no way to them to hide it and not that I would’ve done anyway. And she basically is the reason I managed to get through it primarily because as that even we basically, as I said, swapped lives. When it became clear I couldn’t physically get to the office or I couldn’t look at my emails without having a panic attack. She stepped in and basically took over, which was incredible because she doesn’t really have background that we have. So she was project managing projects that she didn’t really understand. But yeah, she was, she was phenomenal. And she over that in the next few months, we started to gradually reverse that.
Phil Morrow: 21:40 So to the point where I’m now back full time and she still does work in the business like a couple of days a week, but certainly the big at the beginning, she was in it full time and I was banned from checking my emails, checking slack, checking Asana, turning the computer on, I was just to focus on me and recover. And that was, I don’t know how to got through it. Without that, I think I’d probably still be in a bad place if I hadn’t, if it wasn’t for that. Outside of that, one of the people in my team is actually our head developers. Actually my brother through speaking to my wife and speaking to people at wpandup, I started to realize how it didn’t even sometimes even matter what the other person said back just talking about it out loud to another person, how much that was helping me do, I’d been out.
Phil Morrow: 22:22 So before I even opened up to my team, my, the team at work, it’s a how I, I told my brother about it and he was really great and he was one of the people that really stood up and kind of help held down the fort, I guess whilst I was recovering and then actually opening up to other members of my family or my dad and people like that and said, you know, that I was struggling. And again, it, it just surprised me how many, how many other people could respond by with the tales of their own, particularly people that worked in our industry. Um, it’s just, I was amazed at how many people who’ve had, you know, quite serious issues at some point in their life.
Nathan Wrigley: 22:56 You might be the kind of person who is willing to share your experiences both good and bad easily with other people. You might find this hard, maybe you can talk to colleagues at work but not your own family or vice versa. In Phil’s case, one thing led to another and before too long he had managed to get support from his extended family, his colleagues and people at wpandup. I was interested to know if the conversations that he had had with these varied support networks were themselves different. Did he feel able to share all his stories with all the people or were there differences in what he shared and to whom he shared it?
Phil Morrow: 23:47 Yeah, I think that that was true. And with family it was, I would maybe reveal more about how I was the personal effects on me and then things like how we’ve managed it cause I’ve got two young children how we were still trying to manage everything and so shield them from things. But then maybe with family, not sharing some of the more financial aspects of the business, which I will happily share with people at wpandup because as, as you mentioned that I think the full, this little hubs are spot on with the mental health being my primary issue and the things I’m doing to work on that that is fed in by sort of the bad habits so that I had in, in, in exercise and, and skip by the business, especially the, the things I didn’t know and the skills if I didn’t have in, in running my business.
Phil Morrow: 24:30 And then some of it in the skills themselves, you know, some of what we were doing, those closing anxiety cause we work with bigger clients and we were doing things that were maybe technically out of our comfort zone a bit more. And so yeah, I think those four hubs are spot on. All of the problems that existing in my world at the moment. I think people need to be honest with themselves. And, uh, and I would always reach out to wpandup to begin with for your WordPress. I just think it’s perfect. It’s a lovely group of people. They can help you figure out what the next steps are. I think some people those next steps, you know, things like therapy and having a professional and talk you about, you know, you mentioned house and that something I have, I have been doing some um, with, with some success actually.
Phil Morrow: 25:14 No, I mean that’s, that that to me was kind of the hub that then that’s where everything else. Yeah, I mean and as I said, I think support networks are very important. So anywhere online or in person where you can meet other like minded people that are doing the same thing day in, day out is you is fantastic. And sometimes careful of some of the Facebook groups because sadly when I was struggling more, as with everything was I, she made her off to people to presenting their best, the best version of themselves. And I think sometimes it’s the same with agency life and people showing you know, the the best of projects they’ve done, things like that. Rather than maybe saying things like, I really struggled with this a little bit, which went badly, so I’d be a bit guarded I guess with that side. That’s just me.
Nathan Wrigley: 26:14 one of the purposes, the press forward podcast is to lift the lid on topics that don’t get talked about enough to allow people to share their stories so that other people might listen and by listening they might gain an understanding that they’re not alone. There are other people out there who have faced the same situations that you are facing. They may have found a way through and can offer support to you on your journey. Maybe that person is already in your life, but they may not be and that’s what wpandup is here for. To connect you with the support that you need.
Nathan Wrigley: 26:59 the PressForward podcast is brought to you today by Green Geeks. Green geeks offers a specially engineered platform that gives WordPress users web hosting that is designed to be the fastest, most secure and scalable hosting available in multiple data centers. Their WordPress hosting makes deploying and managing WordPress websites easy with automatic one click install managed updates, realtime security protection, SSD raid 10 storage arrays, power cacher and expert 24 seven support to make for the best web hosting experience. And we thank Green Geeks for helping us put on the pressboard podcast
Nathan Wrigley: 27:45 that’s it for this week. Please let us know if you’re enjoying the podcast. If you’re finding it useful or helpful, you can reach out to us at wpandop.org forward slash contact. Remember that there’s a serious point to all of this though, and that is that wpandup is here to provide help and supports that help is available to you or people you know and can be easily accessed at the wpandup .org website. Please spread the word about this new podcast, tell your friends and subscribe on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast player and remember, together we can hashtag press forward.